By Danny Schrafel
Pray for sunshine.
A regional road salt shortage is putting highway departments across Long Island on thin ice when it comes to keeping roads dry and safe – and Huntington is no exception.
Superintendent of Highways Peter Gunther said Wednesday that his supply has dwindled precipitously at his main salt barns, located on Oakwood Road in Huntington and at highway headquarters on Rofay Drive in Huntington near Elwood.
Gunther said he likes to keep 4,500 tons of salt on hand at the Rofay facility; right now, he has 600. Oakwood, at which he typically holds 1,000 tons, is down to just 80. Those 80 tons, about two tractor-trailers full, came after he “jumped up and down” last week to squeeze product out of the state-contracted supplier, Staten Island-based Atlantic Salt.
Depending on how bad the snow was this week – another wintry blast was expected Wednesday into Thursday – Gunther said the highway department might be all but tapped out of salt by today, March 5.
Stocks of road salt have been on the government’s radar for nearly a month – on Feb. 5, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in New York, allowing him to release 3,500 tons of salt to affected municipalities.
“It goes quick. We’ve have a lot of storms. One after another after another,” Gunther said.
Gunther said Atlantic Salt has 650 tons of salt on back order for him, and he plans to order 1,900 more tons.
And until he receives the salt, he’s stuck. Because Atlantic Salt is the state-chosen contractor, Gunther and other highway superintendents in the region can’t shop around.
“They are the only game in town, and they’re handcuffing me in terms of getting salt,” he said. “We’re all in the same damn boat because these guys are only doing piecemeal.”
Gunther is calling for a centralized distribution center to be created on Long Island, equipped with 150,000 to 200,000 tons of salt, to address the regional shortage.
An Atlantic Salt representative did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
Heather R. Groll, spokesperson for the state’s department of general services, said in a statement that the office is “working closely with municipalities and salt producers every day to monitor changing salt needs and deliveries so that that no one runs out and those who need it most are getting it as fast as possible.”
This will be ongoing throughout the remainder of this long winter season, she added.
“The back-to-back storms across a wide swath of the state have made this a challenging year, so we are working as a team to get the salt to the communities where it is needed,” she said.
Should the state experience a shortfall, an aide to Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) said that the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), a state-to-state mutual aid agreement administered by the National Emergency Management Association, can be tapped.
EMAC allows a state to request personnel, equipment, commodities, and services and for the other States to respond to those requests through sharing and redistribution of local and state assets. EMAC becomes available after a state of emergency is declared.
In the meantime, while Atlantic Salt said they’re working as fast as they can, Gunther said, but those laments are falling on deaf ears.
“It’s something I don’t want to hear… That’s your problem, not mine,” he said.
In the meantime, Gunther said he is going to have to stretch what he’s got as far as he can. Gunther has typically used a 50-50 mix of sand and salt; he is considering shifting to an 80-20 mix of sand to salt.
"I'm going to have to strategize," he said.